On March 19 Egyptians celebrated their first free and fair voting experience with a referendum on constitutional change.
Today, there is heated debate on which should come first: writing the new constitution or staging parliamentary elections?
The controversy is much deeper than the chicken or the egg causality dilemma. The youth is right because the constitution is supposed to precede elections; because the constitution is the cause while the vote is an effect.
The Muslim Brotherhood is right, also, because the people have been asked to vote on speeding up legislative polls, delaying the presidential vote and postponing the new constitution, and this is what the people did.
The referendum was boiled quickly with the youth wanting to ditch the Mubarak legacy, while the Brotherhood wanted to rule. The Brotherhood threw its weight behind advancing parliamentary polls because they realize that their party would win it since it’s the biggest force after the dismantling of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. The Brotherhood figured that if they won the elections they would be in a better position to draft the new constitution.
It turned out that the Muslim Brotherhood elders outsmarted the revolution youth since they had a long experience in battling adversaries such as Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar El-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. Politics is a game of intellect and brain, not chants and demonstrations. The youth played the referendum issue as a 100-meter race, while the Brotherhood treated it as a game of chess.
There are people, like Mohamed ElBaradei, who kept cautioning that drafting the new constitution is the most important thing in the history of Egypt today. They insisted that choosing between the elections and the constitution was wrong in principle since the constitution is the horse that leads the political life and should be given priority. As a matter of fact, there was no urgent need to boil the constitution so quickly.
The youth are right today in insisting that drafting the constitution comes first because it’s the holy book of political life and if it were written later it would be almost impossible to change except through another revolution.
The reason for going ahead with the constitution, which created the current deadlock, seems to be that many people believed the vote would show the popularity of the different forces on the ground, since everybody was claiming to speak for the people. But popularity is not the most important aspect in democracy, what is more important is the number of Egyptians who went out on voting day and queued in long lines. In democracy the number of voters is more important than the number of demonstrators.
It’s true that the Muslim Brotherhood deceived the Tahrir youth, but this is legitimate and legal political shrewdness. The youth who now insist on writing the constitution first would be told that they are anti-democratic because the people settled the issue with their votes.
Anyone who reads the angry comments below by the readers like I did on Al-Sharq Al Awsat’s Website would sense a belated realization.
“Would anyone please tell me why [Muslim Brotherhood] is afraid of writing the constitution before the elections? And please do not tell me it’s because of the referendum results because we all know how bottles of oil and bags of sugar affected the vote.”
“The people have fallen prey to dark movements because of inexperience in practicing democracy and lack of political awareness.”
“Unfortunately, I discovered that I only liked you out of hatred for the National Democratic Party, but you have now shown your true face.”
“The people have discovered the game and you should respect the people’s desire to have constitutional amendments first. You have to understand that the people who toppled Mubarak can do the same with you any time.”
(Abdul Rahman Al Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. This article first appeared in the London-based Asharq Al Awsat on June 25, 2011.)